10 Things Henri Cartier-Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

I have been doing quite a bit of research into Henri Cartier-Bresson, the godfather of street photography.

Although my current approach in street photography is more like Bruce Gilden and less of Henri Cartier-Bresson, HCB influenced much of my earlier work and I still deeply respect his photography and philosophies. I hope you are able to enjoy these things I believe you can learn from Henri Cartier-Bresson about street photography. Keep reading to become inspired and learn more.

1. Focus on geometry

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

If you look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he applied geometry to his images poetically. If you look at the composition of his images he integrated vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, curves, shadows, triangles, circles, and squares to his advantage. He also paid particular attention to frames as well.

Don’t only see the world as it is, look for shapes and geometry that occur naturally as well. Open up your mind and break your environment into different formal elements. Look for lines that may lead to your subjects or squares that may frame your image. Become poetic with your images and integrate interesting actors and stages when you are out shooting.

2. Be patient

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

When Henri Cartier-Bresson would talk about “The Decisive Moment” he said sometimes it would be spontaneous but others times he had to be patient and wait for it. Regardless he was very methodological when he would go out and shoot, and would only keep his images if every element of his image (people, background, framing, and composition) were perfect.

When you are out shooting and you see fascinating scenes, wait for the right person to walk by to complete your image. Although you don’t want to camp out for hours on end to wait for the right moment to occur, practice a bit of patience. You don’t always need to go out and hunt for photo-opportunities. Allow them to come to you.

3. Travel

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled the world and shot in places such as India, all of Europe, the United States, China, as well as Africa. When he traveled the world, he was able to capture a different slice of life and learn more about the local people he was with. For example when he was shooting in India—he stayed there for around a year and immersed himself into the culture.

Although it is great to shoot street photography in your backyard, it is great to travel as often as you can. Explore different countries and cultures, and it will help inspire your photography and open your eyes.

4. Stick to one lens

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Although Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with several different lenses while on-assignment working for Magnum, he would only shoot with a 50mm if he was shooting for himself. By being faithful to that lens for decades, the camera truly became “an extension of his eye”.

Apply the same mentality to when you go out and shoot. I encourage people to use different focal lengths to see the world differently and experiment—but ultimately sticking with one focal length will help you solidify your artistic vision. You will be able to see natural framelines in your everyday life, and know exactly how your photos will appear when shooting from certain angles and distances.

5. Take photos of children

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

One of my favorite photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson is of this little boy carrying two bottles of wine under his arms, with the triumphant grin of a champion. When I first saw the image, it struck me in the heart as it reminded me of my own childhood. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master at taking photos of children in their natural playful state, creating images that convey beautiful nostalgia to his viewers.

Nowadays it is incredibly difficult to shoot children (all of this hysteria in the news about pedophilia and kidnappings). However children are great subjects to shoot when it comes to street photography. In my experience I have noticed that they don’t mind being in front of the camera, and often ignore it. Therefore you are able to capture their true essence: playful, curious, and often mischievous.

6. Be unobtrusive

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

When Henri Cartier-Bresson would shoot on the streets, he would stay as low-key and unobtrusive as he could. I even read that he would cover his chrome Leica in black tape and even sometimes with a hankerchief to make it less noticeable when he was out shooting. Most of the images that he captured his subjects were oblivious of the camera, and thus truly candid.

If you wish to shoot the same way, wear clothes that blend into your environment and work quickly and don’t linger. If you see videos of Henri Cartier-Bresson shooting you can see that he has the dexterity of a feline and is quite agile and quick. If you see a scene you want to capture, quickly bring your camera up to your eye and move on before anybody can notice you.

7. See the world like a painter

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Before Henri Cartier-Bresson got into photography, he was actually first interested in painting. Once HCB discovered photography, he applied the same aesthetics in classical painting into his images. For HCB composition was extremely essential, and his images reflect that of romantic painters before him. Interestingly enough when he was much older, he actually denounced photography and focused the rest of his life in drawing. You can check out the interview with him on NPR here.

In order to become a better street photographer, study the work of painters. See how they utilize framing, composition, people, and scenes. One painter that I find absolutely fascinating is Edward Hopper, who was essentially a street photographer armed with a paintbrush. Don’t just limit your inspiration from photography books, explore other forms of classical, modern, surreal, and abstract art as well.

8. Don’t crop

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Henri Cartier-Bresson was vehemently opposed to cropping. He believed that whenever you took a photo, it should always be done in-camera. If his framing or composition was a bit off, he would disregard the image.

Although my personal philosophy is a bit more lax on cropping, I still believe it is best if you can achieve your street photography without cropping. If you crop too often, you become lazy with your framing when you are actually shooting which will hinder your photographic vision.

9. Don’t worry about processing

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Although Henri-Cartier Bresson knew how to process and develop his own film, he never did it by himself. He would go out and shoot and send his photos to people he trusted, who would develop it for him. This gave him a huge advantage because it would allow how to spend less time in the darkroom, and more time out shooting.

In this modern and digital age, photographers are too concerned about post-processing. If you really know nothing about post-processing, buy a copy of Lightroom 4 and download my free street photography presets. Although I do enjoy post-processing my images from RAW into black and white, spending too much time in post-processing will hinder you. If you shoot a bad photo, no amount of “photoshopping” can make it any better.

10. Always strive for more

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Henri Cartier-Bresson never had much of an emotional attachment to his images. In the documentary I watched of him, they tried to surprise him by printing and showing him all of his classic and earlier work on the walls of the gallery they were interviewing him at. However HCB looked at them with little interest and told them that once he took a photo, he would simply move on and look for the next photo.

Although it is great to appreciate your work, never idolize your work and let it hold you back. If you have a great portfolio of images, strive to get even better images. Don’t become satisfied and complacent. Always strive for greatness.

Books by Henri Cartier-Bresson

If you want to learn more about Henri Cartier-Bresson and see more of his inspirational images, purchase one of his books below:

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

A fascinating look into the life and photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

One of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s finest books on India

1x1.trans 10 Things Henri Cartier Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

A solid retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos and work

What do you love most about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s imagery and thoughts about street photography? If you have any other tips, feel free to comment and share them below!

Upcoming Street Photography Workshops

If you want to conquer your fears and meet new peers, join me in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Stockholm, London, Portland, Chicago, Toronto, and New York City:

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Comments

  1. Roger Coulam says

    Two tips – firstly there are no rules, and secondly don’t spend too long trying to emulate a particular photographer’s style. Get out there and make pictures and find your own voice – it takes time, and is part of the learning curve. So enjoy your successes and analyse your failures.
    http://www.rogercoulam.com/blog

    • reinhard lampano says

      if there were “no rules” then i could take lame pictures of things out on the street and call that street photography. hcb puts the emphasis on that “decisive moment” because at the end of the day, THAT’S what makes a solid street photo.

      • Roger Coulam says

        My attitude is that there really are no rules when making pictures (of any kind), but yes there are lots of guidelines, be they technical or artistic, that help us to make pictures that are not “lame.” It is up to the individual to choose which of those guidelines to apply, it is all subjective.
        http://www.rogercoulam.com

      • Roger Coulam says

        My attitude is that there really are no rules when making pictures (of any kind), but yes there are lots of guidelines, be they technical or artistic, that help us to make pictures that are not “lame.” It is up to the individual to choose which of those guidelines to apply, it is all subjective.
        http://www.rogercoulam.com

      • Anonymous says

        But you CAN. Everyone does. If you call it a “street photo” it IS a street photo. The idea that it has to adhere to a set of guidelines is anti-Art, anti-creativity, anti-photography. If Cartier-Bresson had thought that way he never would have picked up a Leica but would have stuck to a medium or large format camera. It takes balls to break “rules” arbitrarily set by others. That’s why he succeeded and many of you have failed.

    • Adam Marelli says

      When asked in interviews what makes for a successful composition Bresson’s answer was one word “…Geometry.” Bresson was educated as a painter by Andre Lhote, who wrote a number of treatises on painting. Both of these men, along with artists like Hopper, had very strong convictions about the design of their work which they inherited from earlier artists and years of study. They never spoke of rules, but of principles and theories of design.

      In art and photo, there are successful techniques that can be employed or rejected. Its not really a game of rules. The term rules over simplifies the education. The worst advice would be to just go out and “find your own voice.” It not much different that trying to write your own language. It ends up being a mess. Photographers seem to struggle with this more than any other profession because pushing a shutter seems very easy. If you wanted to be a professional boxer, it would be impossible without a trainer. All the heart, guts, and enthusiasm will only last so long against a well trained professional.

      When Bresson was asked by Charlie Rose if you are born with a sense of design he responded, “It has to be cultivated.”

      • says

        Very insightful–thanks for your thoughts Adam. When we meet up hopefully I can learn some more composition theory from you. To my understanding you have a great teacher right now :)

        • Adam Marelli says

          Hey Eric, I have been really lucky to meet some great teachers. Would be happy to share their lessons with you.

          • Samuel Oduneye says

            Hey Adam do you would be able to share these lessons with the rest of us? What type of resources do you have? Weblinks, books?

            Thank you

      • Anonymous says

        Well said, Adam! The common misconception is that street photography is so simple that there is no need to set rules for it. A lot of people with cameras (as opposed to true photographers :) ) think that the ‘street’ is the genre for them, after perhaps encountering failures and frustrations in other photographic genre like portraiture, still life, or even landscape where there seem to be a lot of “rules”. The notion that the street is open, spontaneous, and non-static leads to the belief that the photography used in it should be as ‘free’ as well- no rules, no standards, and even no composition or graphic consideration!

        “Finding one’s voice” is difficult if that voice cannot speak in a manner that is comprehensible. Doing nothing but trial and error will lead to hits or misses- more misses likely. And of the hits, they can be best described as accidental: the creator had little to do with it, and thus he is unlikely to recreate the ‘success’ which his unintended hit had, if he had no grip on its method of creation in the first place.

      • says

        Itten said in “The Art of Color”something to the effect that a journey with a teacher is like being in a coach with a driver who knows where he is going. That view’s opposite is that of the wanderer in the wilderness who does not know what he is looking for till he finds it. He will wander aimlessly and in circles of confusion and in all likelihood die before he gets there, such is the method of trial with the terror of error. If we hold to the view of Newton that if we have seen anything at all it is because we have stood on the shoulders of giants then we ought take good care of which giants shoulders we stand on lest they topple and fall and we be crushed beneath them.

        On the subject of composition we deal not only with geometry or points, lines and planes held within the framework of an instant coffee of time, at least from Kandinsky’s’s viewpoint, but also the time of the life of the object of art as intended by the worker or it’s creator we will get educated at last. Composition then takes on a sort of social priority in that Mr, Miss or Mrs General Public Viewer looks for an instant and remains unaware of all the author’s trials to resolve that piece into what they (AUTHOR) perceive as its unified whole but not theirs (GP). Then we go onto Magritte and “this is not a pipe” to Foucault and the treason of pictures perhaps the reason why HCB ceased photographing and took up painting for all I know: I never met, nor ever will, meet nor greet him………………….perhaps in paradise but not here in that ever present now.

        By way of extension a single letter is a picture and so is every word, thus we deal then with, the treason of language. One reflected onto the average Joe photographer on the street with a telephoto lens and the paranoia of people concerning paedophilia. The love of children does that make HCB a paedophile does it? NO, he was an agapeophile a lover of principals. He is reported to of liked Roger Bacon, there is no accounting for his tastes, see sentence with the line of dots if you doubt me.

        Back then to the frame or that which is included in the picture and the range finder camera. The most important aspect of my experience with that little black box was the fact that the bright line viewfinder allowed me to see at the same time that which was to be excluded from the picture. As an aid to composition the bright line was like an easel under an enlarger. An effect I would love to see in digital cameras.

    • Emily Taylor says

      true i enjoy the low key black leica and clothes style but I have my own method of street photography I like to do I just keep on improving it as I go on and never really focused much on any sort of rule, it is ART after all.

  2. John says

    Considering that the image of the man jumping into the puddle is a heavily cropped image, I’d argue that Rule #8 is untrue.

    • says

      That’s one of the two photos he has ever cropped. :)
      It was shot through a fence: “the space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason the picture is cut off on the left.”

      Cropping can be useful at times. But the best “cropping” is done with your camera i.e. framing.
      You shouldn’t crop because you were too lazy to frame it right.

      • Valome says

        I’ve read much about HCB. I read that he was frustrated at the way Life magazine would crop his photos. He wanted to be in control of the cropping. But he never saw his images before they were sent to the magazine(s). So he started insisting that his photos be not cropped at all, just to ensure that they wouldn’t be unsatisfactorily (for him) cropped. Thus, I don’t think he was a “purist” in this regard that he is reputed to be. It was a practical matter. Of course, ideally, he would like to capture the image perfectly within the viewfinder. But slight crops can save a great photo.

        (What is likely) his most famous photo was cropped because of the restricted position from behind a fence. And more interestingly, he didn’t even see the scene he was shooting because of the restricted position. He was shooting “blind” and look what he got! He acknowledges ‘luck’ as an important element in capturing great photos.

  3. Will says

    “… and would only keep his images if every element of his image (people, background, framing, and composition) were perfect.”

    That’s strange because I usually go back to the old masters of street photography to remember things don’t have to be perfect to be great. Just looking at the photos you see many small imperfections, case and point the bicycle picture where the bike and person is not entirely within the natural borderlines, scraping the top, but you can’t say it’s not a great photo.

    I have a book of Marc Riboud that also demonstrates this. I really don’t think these are perfect, but they’re great!

    • says

      great point, Will. Pictures that are perfect tend to be uninteresting. Were the rider not scraping the top, I think we would like this picture less. The bicycle picture is my favorite of HCB’s so I may be biased by the thousands of times I’ve looked at it…..

  4. says

    The india shot breaks my heart every time I see it. Anew it reminds me to be grateful, thankful, and joyous. The boat picture I’d never seen & I thought I’d seen them all…gorgeous!

  5. Anonymous says

    great blog post. i couldn’t agree more with these 10 thoughts.

    about the debate of reading thoughts from a master like Bresson and finding your own voice i think the one doesn’t exclude the other. Thorsten Overgaard used a great quote by Emerson for one of his blog posts the other day “Every artist was first an amateur” … to move from amateur to artist you have to find your own voice … your own eye. but you will also have to improve your technique. you will have to master the craft. you can’t be a master artist with just an amateur technique. to improve your technique you will have to do and you will have to learn … and why not learn from the best?

    so with that, yes go out and shot, and learn from your mistakes. but also learn technique and learn from others, and also get inspired by others … other photographers like eric, like roger, like bresson … by other artists, painters, movie makers. for me michael mann is a huge inspiration (maybe not always the best movie, but he creates an amazing aesthetic in more or less all of his movies. that doesn’t mean i copy him but it inspires me to find my own.

    http://thestreetsofdc.tumblr.com/

  6. Anonymous says

    great blog post. i couldn’t agree more with these 10 thoughts.

    about the debate of reading thoughts from a master like Bresson and finding your own voice i think the one doesn’t exclude the other. Thorsten Overgaard used a great quote by Emerson for one of his blog posts the other day “Every artist was first an amateur” … to move from amateur to artist you have to find your own voice … your own eye. but you will also have to improve your technique. you will have to master the craft. you can’t be a master artist with just an amateur technique. to improve your technique you will have to do and you will have to learn … and why not learn from the best?

    so with that, yes go out and shot, and learn from your mistakes. but also learn technique and learn from others, and also get inspired by others … other photographers like eric, like roger, like bresson … by other artists, painters, movie makers. for me michael mann is a huge inspiration (maybe not always the best movie, but he creates an amazing aesthetic in more or less all of his movies. that doesn’t mean i copy him but it inspires me to find my own.

    http://thestreetsofdc.tumblr.com/

  7. says

    Interesting what you write is more or less what I already do. Except the taping of my camera I did not do yet. Maybe I should try this out. Regarding the children shooting it might be a bit difficult as a man in certain countries. This whole pedophilia concerns are not helping in this matter.

  8. Anonymous says

    HCB is a great inspiration for those who believe that photography is done for visual pleasures and delight. His work as you have rightly said is visually appealing with strong compositions. Much of work by now being dished out in name of street photography, often ignores the fundamentals of a visually appealing composition – the forms, geometry, shapes. I like the classic street photography that HCB pioneered.

  9. says

    I’m pretty sure Cartier-Bresson would not want to be referred to as the Godfather of anything except a child…. and your #2 item…. BE PATIENT… is the complete opposite from from his philosophy… when it suggested his photography represented patience he replied… ” no it’s actually impatience ”

    curious… did you purchase the rights to use his images from MAGNUM?

      • Jim Ostgard says

        I got to this interesting blog post via a link provided by the Magnum Photos Facebook page, so it would seem this is not only fair use, but heartily approved use.

      • says

        Nope… it would seem I was over anxious and in error regarding Magnum… I do doubt Fair Use would cover 10 photos … but it’s a moot point with Magnum’s endorsement… Mr. Kim was right and I was wrong …. actually I was stupid for not checking .. and for that I apologize.

        I do stand behind my note on impatience…and the Godfather “thing” however

    • Anonymous says

      If you consider the fact that Magnum themselves have tweeted the link to this page, they obviously do not have a problem with it. Under fair-use, he would be able to use them on his blog.

    • says

      “I’m pretty sure Cartier-Bresson would not want to be referred to as the Godfather of anything except a child…”

      This is an opinion (unless you have the evidence to the contrary?)

      My opinion is that most people would be chuffed to bits (pleased) to be know as the Grandfather of anything (again it’s just an opinion)

      Erics statement about patience is not inconsistent with HCB’s statement. You can feel impatient whilst practicing patience. Think about it, you wouldn’t feel impatient if you didn’t have to wait for (and I’m really beginning to hate the term…..) the decisive moment.

  10. Jim Ostgard says

    Really terrific essay. I notice that you don’t refer to 10 “rules” we can learn from HCB, and others have commented that he and other master photographers used terms like “geometry” or “design” when referring to the process of composing creative images. Perhaps “forms” would be another acceptable term for the rudiments of composition, as it permits comparison with other creative ventures like music, poetry, and graphic design. One is first drawn to the practice of a particular art by seeing the work of established artists, and we want to very quickly produce our own “results” for the pleasure that brings. If we are serious about the art, however, we soon accept the fact that we must learn the forms and how to work with them if we are ever to express ourselves effectively in our chosen medium. So we employ the self-discipline needed to gain at least some familiarity with scales and chords, pentameter and assonance, white space and “x” height. When I was learning to write poetry, I forced myself to write sonnets and haiku with rigid adherence to form because this practice taught me the discipline to seek not just a better word, or even just the ‘best’ word, but to seek the perfect word. Once I had that discipline, I could also write free verse, confident that even this “formless” work would be as tight and effective as my imagination would permit. I see the parallel in your recommendation that, as photographers, we strive to avoid cropping our images. Having the discipline to compose in the eyepiece or on the ground glass requires us to be engaging our creativity from the ‘get go’. The process does matter, because there is no image, no art, without the process which leads to the result. It seems to me our satisfaction as artists must come in large part from knowing we have directed the whole process.

  11. Anonymous says

    “Don’t worry about processing.”

    Sorry, have to disagree with you about this one. Like many well-heeled or established photographers, Cartier-Bresson could afford (literally) to not worry about processing because he didn’t have to. Someone else did it for him. He had highly skilled people performing the initial processing and the subsequent printing for him. A luxury, to say the least. He was not against post-processing at all. Anyone who has seen the recent documentaries about him would recall how much work went into the printing of his work….

  12. Anonymous says

    I’m surprised that many people have ignored the fact that Cartier-Bresson was actually a photojournalist making a living from magazines and not a “street photographer” per se. The myth that he was out wandering with his trusty 50mm for hours just on a whim is false. He was doing a job. Nothing more. He was very good at what he did, however. There is a reason he jumped ship and returned to painting, his first love…

    • Emmy says

      HCB considered himself a Surrealist. He was promoted as a photojournalist because it was “the new thing” at the time.

  13. Anonymous says

    I find your article quite interesting, and obviously geared toward people signing up for your ‘workshop’ I use the term ‘workshop’ euphemistically. Street photography has become a bore..! Sticking a camera in someone’s face or clandestinely lurking in the shadows while some poor slob picks his nose or waiting for a young girl to bend over to adjust her whatever is not street photography. Like so many things in this day and age the original lines have become blurred with the convenient and political correct word usage of today i.e. news/entertainment and of course voyeurism is now called, ‘street photography!’
    Street photography today has noting to do with the street, this new age term is nothing more that a place where anyone with a credit card or cell phone can go and call himself ‘photographer’ add to this the internet and now you have a world of experts selling their wares
    Something like snake oil I would imagine… Oh! By the way, look at the photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson you posted, and then read what you wrote, comments and photos don’t match on many. Thank you for your time, now I have to load film into my F4 and reformat the memory card on my Ricoh. And yes, I am older than God, started photography with a Kodak brownie and the Korean War.

    • says

      Thanks a ton for your comment Howard! I believe everyone has his or her own definition of street photography, as everyone has their own style. Getting close to people is only one style, something I have been doing recently that isn’t for everybody. I realize this and encourage everyone to find their own voice.

      I also suggest you to read some testimonials on my page– people have really enjoyed attending my workshops :) http://erickimphotography.com/blog/workshops/

  14. Ned Little says

    The travel rule annoys me. It annoyed me when it was college juniors just back from study abroad saying “you can’t fully live unless you travel” and it annoys me here.

    What you’re doing when you say that is putting photography even more into the realm of art that only the well off can afford. Travel, especially internationally, isn’t cheap. And even more so when you’re working full time just to keep pace with bills.

    • Greg Hao says

      I think what lies at the heart of the “travel rule” is really another way of saying, “get out of your comfort zone”. If you shoot the same 15 blocks to and from work (just an example), try to expand that by going a block or two further. That’s traveling, no?

    • says

      I travel a lot with my work and what I’ve found is that I notice a lot more around me by nature of the fact everything is strange. It’s in the ‘noticing’ and wonderment that we see opportunity. When we are in familiar surroundings our ‘noticing’ neurons switch off (it’s like when you travel the same route every day to work, you can often get to work and not remember anything about the journey)

      One of the challenges I’ve set myself this year is to walk my own city (Dublin) and walk with the wonderment of a stranger by asking myself “what would a stranger notice/be drawn to”

      Remember – your (and my) backyard is someone else’s ‘travel’ :-)

      • Raymond Masse says

        Paul,

        You are doing the right thing.

        Since the beginning of the year, I walk down streets of Ottawa. Where I lived forever. It is so refreshing to do so with an unbiased mind.

        And I will always remember a visit in Avignon, France. There falls two centimeters of snow every five years …And I saw a collection of post cards of the city under snow. Priceless. The guy who did it jumped outside, in his own backyard. On a day when no one tourist was around.

    • Steven says

      One of the photographers I have always admired is George Tice. He was born in Newark, New Jersey and is best known for photographs of his home state.

    • James1951 says

      lol if you have to travel, to where I am to do art, I am already here so I don’t have to travel to do mine.

  15. Stefan Elf says

    Thank-you for a nice article Eric!
    I feel that whenever I read about HCB and see his work I’m reminded of the beauty of ordinary life and how it really takes a skillful eye and trained technique to shoot good street photography (as is true in all other forms of photography of course)…

    As to the discussion about ‘rules’ and ‘breaking the rules’ it seems that people see rules as restrictions and standards by which to condemn people. In art, perceived restrictions take away the fun of the creative process.

    On the other hand, if you see a system of basic rules (composition, exposure, lighting etc) as a standard to aspire to rather than a set of limiting commandments, rules inspire expressions of art. It makes me feel inspired and happy when I see geometry and golden angles and interesting lighting etc through the viewfinder. It makes me want to capture it!

    Training and refining one’s understanding (and appreciation) of basic rules will make you a better artist, be it in photography or any other art form. Rules don’t condemn anyone, but explain why great art is indeed great.

  16. Stefan Elf says

    Thank-you for a nice article Eric!
    I feel that whenever I read about HCB and see his work I’m reminded of the beauty of ordinary life and how it really takes a skillful eye and trained technique to shoot good street photography (as is true in all other forms of photography of course)…

    As to the discussion about ‘rules’ and ‘breaking the rules’ it seems that people see rules as restrictions and standards by which to condemn people. In art, perceived restrictions take away the fun of the creative process.

    On the other hand, if you see a system of basic rules (composition, exposure, lighting etc) as a standard to aspire to rather than a set of limiting commandments, rules inspire expressions of art. It makes me feel inspired and happy when I see geometry and golden angles and interesting lighting etc through the viewfinder. It makes me want to capture it!

    Training and refining one’s understanding (and appreciation) of basic rules will make you a better artist, be it in photography or any other art form. Rules don’t condemn anyone, but explain why great art is indeed great.

  17. Anonymous says

    Bresson also said that he does not think when he shoots. Saw a documentary where he was discussing his own images and the photos were often taken by instinct.

    So, my tip for you (& me): have a Bresson quality instinct and trust it.

    Everyone can take a picture, not everyone is a photographer.

    My only formula: Keep shooting…
    http://andreimoment.com

    • Heru Anggono says

      I believe the “instinct” HCB was refering to is actually “sense of timing”. I watched the documentary interview of HCB and he was describing a particular shot (in India) where every element is coming together. So he can clearly see the scene unravelling before him, and he waited and he click the shutter when the scene reached it’s climax. Decisive Moment? I very much think so.

  18. says

    Do not think – just shoot. It is ALL about instinct.
    Do not try to “copy” HCB, because it cant be done (with any photographer). Figure out what signs HCB was looking for BEFORE he shot and look for them yourself. Look at your own photographs. What is it about those that you really like that makes you like them? Try to follow that path and find your own voice.
    http://www.kejlskov.dk

  19. says

    Do not think – just shoot. It is ALL about instinct.
    Do not try to “copy” HCB, because it can not be done (with any photographer for that matter). Figure out what “signs” HCB was looking for BEFORE he shot and look for them yourself. Look at your own photographs. What is it about those that you really like that makes you like them? Try to follow that path and find your own voice. Just my 2c.

    http://www.kejlskov.dk

  20. says

    Do not think – just shoot. It is ALL about instinct.
    Do not try to “copy” HCB, because it can not be done (with any photographer for that matter). Figure out what “signs” HCB was looking for BEFORE he shot and look for them yourself. Look at your own photographs. What is it about those that you really like that makes you like them? Try to follow that path and find your own voice. Just my 2c.

    http://www.kejlskov.dk

  21. says

    I am starting to get into photography and especially street photography and like scenery in my city when I take walks and stuff.
    Thank you very much for these tips. I will try to implement them into my photos next time I go out to shoot some photos again (probably tmw).

  22. Joel says

    When you speak of geometry, and look at the picture you chose, you are talking about the graph of the fibonacci sequence (1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc.). The graph is a spiral that matches the spiral of a nautilus.

    Also, when I trained, we were vehemently instructed not to crop. You are right, it does make for lazy composition.

    And while it is true in a way that there are no rules, it is also true the the most successful images do follow certain rules of perspective, geometry, and pattern recognition that simply work for the human visual/brain system. It is also notably important to know the history of art and the history of photographic images so that while one develops ones own visual style, they not duplicate the work of others. I have seen so many images of late that people think are original, when in fact they are trite.

  23. Anonymous says

    A brilliant list Eric – and advice the applies beyond just street photography. Probably the most poignant of all your points is #7 – to see the world like a painter. For within this all-encompassing concept lies the secret to compelling photography – whether street, landscape or environmental portraiture, just to name a few.

    Like Bresson, we must be able to intuitively distill everything we’ve ever learned about light, design, composition, human behavior, emotion, empathy and life into our own unique painting – one that hopefully allows us to outwardly express our inner voice and vision.

    So when Bresson was talking about ideas like Geometry, he was really talking about one of the many facets that factored into his own painting. Eventually, you get to the point where you stop dissecting the individual aspects that go into a compelling photograph (things like lines, shapes, forms, textures, gestures, nuances, tonality, light, etc.), and it all just melds together instinctively. For when you hold up the camera, you instantly see the painting in things. This is what made Bresson so remarkable.

    BTW, I’m a huge fan of Hopper’s work. He too was a remarkable artist. If you don’t already own it, I suggest you purchase “Hopper’s Influence on Photography.” It is available through the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and features work from Masters such as Robert Adams, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and others.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas on Bresson. It was very insightful.

  24. Jim Donahue says

    Great Article. Love the shot of the little boy with the wine. Shooting Kids nowadays is real risky. Need to ask the parents if it is ok and sometimes that spoils the shot.

  25. Aiden Lloyd says

    I would love to see the exact quote, or one of the exact quotes, from Bresson himself about “the decisive moment.” I see lots of loose translations and paraphrasing, but I would very much like to see the quote that started the philosophy. Is this around anywhere?

  26. says

    I think there is a lot of hype about HCB. So many of his pictures just DON’t take me to another world. He once said, that his good pictures just were luck. And he did shoot a lot.

  27. Bill Rogers says

    I read somewhere that it was as if HCB had an arrangement with life that allowed him to be in the right place at exactly the right time. This was no better illustrated than with his image of two nuns passing beneath two raised statues of nun-like figures on a building.

    In recent years I have tended more towards video photograpy than stills and have found that if I adopt a patient / trusting approach I am often rewarded with similar ironies in my work. This I deliberately did after studying Cartier Bresson’s work and approach.

  28. grandpaclay54 says

    I really like reading through a post that will make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  29. JP says

    Thank you! I am learning the ‘digital’ way after spending many hours in a dark room making my own little magic. I actually enjoy the room over photo taking. Never the less, I have learned what RAW images are and histograms etc. I really envy/appreciate the the patience, point of view, photo processing of HCB. Most especially his timing. Thank you for the tips and suggestions!

  30. BObi says

    You’ve forgot the 11th rule:
    Don’t put your work on internet how dozen of people will come to bash your workd and judge your talent even though they don’t have a clue about what is art because the only thing they care is gear and oversaturated sharp pictures.

  31. Nio says

    I have taken over 700,000 photos from living in Thailand. More than half of those would be considered street photos. I am not a photographer, I am just an idiot with a camera and a pair of eyes. I know nothing about photography but I do agree with many, but not all of, Bressen’s points after reading about them here. I have honestly never heard of him that is how much of a photographer I am.  I do believe in the shot is in the moment, at times you have to wait for the moment and it best to be unobtrusive and hidden in a way the object never knows you are taking their photo. Geometry and the way natural light plays into a shot is always worth consideration. Sometimes I am lucky an get a shot that would match Bressen, but most times I am just happy to view and relive the experience through the photos.

  32. says

    There are also limitations in digital photography. For example, there is a range for every … StreetView of My House · Satellite Maps · Satellite View of My House …
    lawn signs

  33. says

    Amazing and useful article! I am a fan of Henri Cartier Bresson’s work. I am not good at street photography because I am shy, apprehensive and slow… By the time I make up my mind, the scene that I want to capture is gone… I am learning a lot lately so this article is very useful for me…
    Thank you Eric.
    I agree with the philosophy behind the 7th tips. I used to paint once and I do consider myself an artist even though I haven’t touched paint and brush in years. The aesthetics of photography appeal to me.

    The 9th photo would have been even better in my honest opinion if the outlines of the mountains were not so dark… The dark outline makes the photo kind of flat as the depth of field is confusing… This looks like what a “Clarity” tool does in Photoshop… Whoever post processed it didn’t do a great job in my opinion. – a big word from a new amateur hobbyist.

  34. Sheila says

    Eric, I am curious as to whether you got permission to use these C-B photos or are they in the public domain?

  35. lilboosie58 says

    these pictures be the realist shiiii that been posted on hurr, I know what’s real cause i been runnin the streets of baton ruge er since i was walkin’ an juuu already kno i been walkin foe a long time. i ain’t play when i talk bout art so don’t play if you gon comment on this after me. outie
    -Boosie

  36. Reyhan Chaudhuri says

    Another thing,I think the great Maestro conveyed~’Never cheapen your subject,even in your quest to get the ‘sensational’..He let them keep their innate dignity intact…’

  37. says

    A nice article well worth posting, both for newcomers, hesitant photogs and more well-rounded ones.

    As a didactic device device the photograph chosen for “2. Be Patient” works but, two things:

    1) It may give the newcomer to this type of street photography a lot to try to live up to, and;

    2) The photograph was actually staged (which IMO takes nothing of the wonder away fro it) with the details having been well chosen for reason of being within a social-political and historic context. The man making the jump was a friend of HCB.

    • Hugues E. Toussaint says

      Wrong. The man making the jump was a complete stranger whom HCB didn’t even know was present at the scene, as he took the photograph without looking through the viewfinder and while sticking the camera through what I believe he mentioned was a gap in a fence.

      He credited that entire photograph to luck, and luck only. There’s a documentary featuring him talking about his techniques and his photographs on youtube where he explains this.

  38. says

    3. TRVAEL : That is fine if you have the money. I have been in SEAsia now for 6 years and lost everything due to last year’s floods. cannot even leave. But never mind, the idea of travel is the experience. Remember HCB was extremely wealthy and able to do more or less as he pleased. He did not “need” t wrk for a living. Which is a good thing for us, as had he had to labor we would not have such a large and wonderful collection of his photographs.
    “If you wish to shoot the same way, wear clothes that blend into your environment” Again this is almost contradictory to “travel”. In particular in you travel in countries where the people are obviously different than you. And some of the most interesting opportunities (in a way) are among people so totally different trying to look like them would be ridiculous.

    I have found sometimes looking like a silly tourist works. But I do not strive t be invisible. i actually enjoy mingling with people, exchanging moments with them and being myself.
    “see the world like a painter”

    This I like and yes, HCB was not only somewhat trained as such but mingled with them and that, at a time painters were still genuine and not whores selling their wares for profit only.

    I grin when I read the part about processing. Developing film is a part of the whole thing, and even the darkroom printing for some. But it is in the age of digital this is almost forgotten and so suggested to be ignored.

    Most people rely more on post processing than the photography itself. It is almost like taking one in 500 shots and then using a post process to make it loo like something. I have seen people so utterly destroy an image for the sake of making an impact it is scary. Often these people think a photo has t scream in your face to be seen.

  39. biginabox says

    Why do you assume street photography has to be in monochrome? It may have been restricted once, but not any more.

  40. says

    The word you meant to use was methodical, not “methodological.” And I think “Cartier-Bresson” is not such a mouthful that you have to abbreviate his name to HCB as though this were a text message on an expensive cellphone plan.

  41. Sandro says

    Hi Kim, may i ask you where i can find the footage of H.C.B. shooting in Paris?do you have any link or title? thank you very much. P.S.: any chance to see you in Italy for a workshop?

  42. James Berkowitz says

    I enjoy street and architectural photography. Thank you very much for your time and insight into the process and Henri Cartier Bresson. A wonderful essay and blog post.

    • Hutech_f2.2 says

      I agree with the idea of using only one lens. I use an 85mm lens for everything and this approach works for me!

  43. says

    Good day! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my good old
    room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.

    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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  48. says

    I usually do not leave a response, but I browsed a few remarks here 10 Things Henri Cartier-Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography — Eric Kim Street Photography.
    I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Is it simply me or do some of these responses appear like they are written by brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting on other places, I would like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of all your social community pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  49. FotoWorkshopsMéxico says

    Hi Erick very interesting and informative post, you have clarified several points about street photography that help those we enter the topic like me thank you.

  50. Rubio says

    Seems a bit OCD nevertheless got some wonderful results I wonder how many shot he would disregard before he got what he was looking for. The guy jumping into the puddle. Did he really wait all day or did he slip him a fiver.

  51. Moushumee K Jha says

    wonderful read Eric and beautifully presented.Thank you for sharing. As Zorkikat mentioned-”Finding one’s voice” is difficult if that voice cannot speak in a manner that is comprehensible. well said and these 10 points made the mannerism in Street photography a even more comprehensive .

  52. Michael Singleton says

    Henri Cartier Bresson is such an interesting photographer, never a street photographer yet overwhelmingly influencing the genre. He is probably most related to street photography because of the way ignored the usual photojournalistic icons/props, for example at the coronation of King George VI he concentrated on the crowd rather than the king. This probably conceived the interest in the common person thus starting the interest in street photography. Also the fact that he later took single pictures out of their projects for the publication of books, this took away their original context and allowed them to stand alone as more artistic pictures rather than Photographic documentation. Thanks for the article

  53. Doug Bond says

    Who said anything about rules? This piece is about
    intuition and understanding. I sense that some of the “rules” alarmists here think art is
    about luck and that if you click (paint, write, play) profusely, luck
    will eventually smile on you. Good luck with that! Good fishermen don’t count on luck.
    Through instinct and preparation they come home with their limit while
    the rest of us think we weren’t lucky enough to catch anything. And they actually enjoy it more than you or I. Same
    thing with art.

  54. Hugh says

    This is pure gold ( as are many of the comments). But here’s a thought: do you think that his photography worked because his philosophy worked? He was a socialist. Socialists appreciate the common man.

  55. Tom Murphy says

    I find this all highly interesting. I think that despite what some people have said about not worrying about other people’s style too much and sticking more to your own style, which I totally agree with to a point, I think we must also look into what some other photographers have done, just to see what sets them apart. If Henri-Cartier-Bresson did something you may not necessarily agree with that method but the very idea that he did that we can use to make us think, why did he do this? Should this apply to my work? Despite whether you agree with the initial idea he is using then we should why we don’t.

    For instance, some people might argue that cropping is indeed a very good idea and anyone who says different is not fully utilizing what they have at there disposal properly. I only partially agree with this particular method of Henri-Cartier-Bresson (I think that photography is more about the raw images caught in the moment, rather than taking them home and chopping and changing everything about them) but you can still learn from why he might say something like this.

  56. Jane Manifold says

    Having just viewed Henri Cartier-Bresson’s amazing photography exhibition in Paris
    I am in awe of his pictures incorporating geometry but leaving an element to chance to complete his pictures

  57. says

    I saw your coment on 20 minutos and followed your link. I am happy I did, I enjoyed reading your article, If you don´t have a chance to visit his current exhibition in Madrid, you can see my review from last may in Paris at the Pompidou (even though is in spanish as I have not translated it yet, the images are a universal language)

    http://www.alejandradeargos.com/index.php/es/completas/14-eventos/243-henri-cartier-bresson-en-el-centro-pompidou-de-paris

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